Nontraditional student shines as gardener and volleyball player
Autumn Erickson is not your average college student. She began college nearly a decade ago and she is now a senior anthropology major who will graduate in the spring.
Before Erickson was a Trojan, she was a UCA Bear. She went to the school on a volleyball scholarship for several years and majored in history with a minor in French.
“I was there [UCA] in 2003 to 2006, “ Erickson said. “Then my coach left and I decided that I was ready to take a break. I didn’t know if I was going to have my scholarship because usually when you get new coaches, they bring in new players. You just never really know.”
Uncertain about her future, she left school and stepped into the work place. However, her time in the “real world” was short-lived. Erickson said she began to miss school life and decided to come to UALR, where she developed some new interests.
“I feel like being nontraditional, being a little bit older, having a little bit of experience in the world helps you define your experience at UALR and what you want to get out of it better. I just feel really focused compared to myself when I first came into college”
Required to take a science course, she chose physical anthropology. She liked the idea of studying human beings and their cultures.
Erickson began to unearth an interest in gardening around the same time she found her niche in the anthropology community on campus. She quickly discovered a way to unite her two newfound passions. Erickson said the Sustainability Committee gave the Anthropology club a grant in 2012. She had the idea of starting a campus garden after taking a class taught by anthropology professor Krista Lewis.
“It really started because I took Dr. Lewis. She had an eating culture class. We talked about just sustainable farming and gardening strategies. We did some service learning out in the community and I went around to community gardens, thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be so great if we had a campus garden?’”
After receiving overwhelming support from the club members, the project was underway.
Erickson and the club planted their first seeds during the fall. The garden is now located on the on the Worth James property off of Fair Park, across from U.S Pizza Company. They grow native plants on the 35 by 35 squre foot block of land that now host over 100 plants and lots of fruits and vegetables.
“It is open to all students. As opposed to like community gardens where you have all sorts of people coming in, it is more like education and research based. We want students to feel like they have some ownership.”
Although she said she loves the outdoors and food, Erickson didn’t grow up around gardening. “I grew up in Texas and it’s really hot and dry,” Erickson said. “My dad is from North Dakota and he’s a farmer, but we never did that. After this eating cultures class, I became interested in food. Then doing all the service learning put me in an environment. I just found it interesting and new.”
Erickson envisions herself doing some form of horticultural work in the future. She finds medical research very interesting and she is even entertaining the idea of working with the Garden Corps, where she would be able to help bring fresh food to communities that don’t have access to good resources. For now though, she is returning to her first love – volley ball.
“I am currently like a semi-professional beach volleyball player. So when I graduate in spring, I’m going to turn all of my attention for the next five years onto that. I’m going and playing a pro tournament on Thursday. Yeah, it’s really random and weird. It’s just like a strange string of events that have sort of led me back into the volleyball world.”
She has a volleyball partner who competed as a former Olympian. The two played in tournaments over the summer.
When Erickson isn’t in the garden or on the sand, she is helping other young girls develop their volleyball skills. She coaches at the club of her former coach at UCA.
“I remember how hard it was for me when I grew up playing a sport. I do want to be a good role model for them. I don’t want to come to practice and be like all stressed out. I don’t get that from the people around me, so I try not to be like that.
Erickson said her goal everyday is to be “strong, ambitious, thoughtful, focused, positive, appreciative, hard working.”